Intriguing two-tier penalty system as players seek PED solution

The baseball world is still buzzing about Dee Gordon's 80-game suspension. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A common misconception about baseball's drug-testing program is that the players are somehow bunkered in against Major League Baseball's drug police, barricading themselves against more tests and harsher penalties.

In fact, it has been the players who have done most of the pushing for alterations in recent years. That is because a lot of the members of one of the world's strongest unions do not want to return to the situation that existed in the 1990s, when the brethren were faced with the horrible choice of either taking performance-enhancing drugs to keep up with juiced-up players -- and assuming the risks associated with the ingestion of those substances -- or falling behind professionally and losing jobs and money to users.

This is why many among the current generation of players have pushed hard to maintain a level playing field. A lot of players have no interest in juicing up.

But some despair is beginning to set in among some players who want to keep the sport clean, because they are starting to run out of practical options to reduce the incentive to cheat. The penalties and testing have already been ramped up significantly and players are still being caught, and after the bust of Dee Gordon, some players privately acknowledged concern that the percentage of users has grown in spite of the tougher rules.

A question posed among players: Why would Gordon get nailed during spring training after getting a $50 million deal from the Marlins?

It could be that PED markers were still in his system from use last summer, one veteran noted. But it's also possible that Gordon was simply confident he would not get nailed in the testing, the player added, and if this sort of thinking is prevalent, baseball has a serious problem. (For the record, Gordon says he did not knowingly take PEDs, a common refrain among those busted.)

The concern over a false-positive test or an inadvertent test is on the minds of players and prevents some from buying into a zero-tolerance policy. Innocent mistakes have been made, and there is the chance for malfeasance. One player noted that he has envisioned a scenario in which a fan of a rival team might work in a restaurant, recognize him and slip something into his food that leads to a positive test. Or something is added to the pizza in room service at a visiting hotel. "How am I supposed to control that?" he asked rhetorically.

So it's hard for some players to support a lifetime ban on a first offense, or the notion that a player's contract could be voided, especially when teams and owners could be motivated to make that happen, as an unhappy George Steinbrenner was when he asked Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield.

But there also is a desire among some players to make the penalties tougher.